Though the prospect of an NHL work stoppage seems increasingly likely, the Ottawa Senators are preparing as if training camp will open on time.
“Nothing changes,” defenceman Chris Phillips said. “We’re staying in shape. This is training camp, minus the exhibition games.
“Nothing changes for us, we’ll keep training and keep negotiating, but there comes a point where we can’t just keep negotiating with ourselves which is basically what’s happening.”
A number of Senators were in New York this week, including star forwards Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, to take part in NHL Players’ Association meetings amid labour negotiations between the league and the union.
While players had hoped to see some progress made on a new collective bargaining agreement, they realize a work stoppage is likely inevitable as the league and union remain clearly divided. The league has said it will lock players out if a new agreement isn’t reached just before midnight on Saturday.
“This could take a while,” Alfredsson said.
Despite facing a lockout, players plan on remaining prepared for the start of the season by training and skating regularly.
Players who have been skating in Ottawa include Alfredsson, Spezza, Phillips, goaltender Craig Anderson, tough guy Chris Neil and centre Zack Smith. Also in the nation’s capital are a number of young players who will likely find themselves playing in the AHL with Binghamton, including Jared Cowen, Mika Zibanejad and Robin Lehner.
Cowen remains the Senators lone player still on his two-way entry-level contract. Lehner and Zibanejad would have likely been competing for spots in Ottawa, but could have just as easily found themselves in Binghamton regardless of the lockout.
Many players say remaining in Ottawa will be their first choice for the foreseeable future. But should negotiations appear to come to a stalemate, they would consider looking at other options.
“My intention is to stay here and skate and I expect to play this season,” Anderson said. “In no way, shape or form do I plan on driving 26 hours back (home) to Florida. This is where the good skates are and where all the good players are and this is where I have the best ability to stay ready for when the season does start.”
Added Smith: “I’m sure guys have back-up plans and what they would do if things go on. I think in the back of everyone’s mind you have to prepare yourself.”
Earlier this week Spezza admitted he has “looked into a few things,” but is hopeful a resolution can be found.
Alfredsson, who only made the decision to return to the game in July after pondering retirement, said he’s more likely to stay home and take on a greater role with his four young sons, but wouldn’t completely rule out looking into opportunities in Europe.
The Senators will be working with John Chabot, who played 508 games in the NHL with Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Chabot also served as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders and is a former head coach of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Gatineau Olympiques.
While the Senators organization refused to comment publicly on how the lockout would affect its staff, some have already been told that their hours will be reduced and to expect even further cutbacks the longer the lockout goes on. For now many will be going to a four-day work week.
Phillips realizes the lockout will impact far more than just players and owners, and realizes fans may become disillusioned with the game.
“It’s always a concern, no question,” he said. “I think we’re on the same side as them. I consider myself a fan of the game too and to not be able to watch the game and play the game I’m along with them.
“Seven years goes by pretty quick and I think everyone is fed up with this situation and being involved with it is very frustrating ... it seems like this word lockout has been the plan since Day 1.”